Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Matatabi's Liner Notes for Raijin Sōsei

12th Album "Raijin Sōsei"

       Onmyōza's 12th album created with "thunder" as the key concept. Naturally it includes fierce pieces conforming with the image that the word thunder brings to mind, but this is Onmyōza after all. The elements of light and dark have been carefully incorporated; if anything, there are pieces that I believe will make you discover that there are different ways of perceiving the word and the phenomenon that is thunder, and above all, in this album all those elements are fired off as a bolt of lightning from the cloud that is Onmyōza. I am convinced that you will feel the heat of Onmyōza's soul that is still being distilled even though this is our 12th album. I proudly believe that this is an album unequaled in power which ties together even more securely the new musical elements displayed in Fūjin Kaikō with our unchanging nucleus.


       Since "Fūjin" on Fūjin Kaikō was an instrumental, it is natural to expect that to be the case here also, but here we have a piece with vocals. The first time mankind witnesses lightning after appearing in this world and the last time mankind witnesses lightning in this world. Imagining that the view would be the same became the idea that led to this song. "People stand still on a wasteland that stretches as far as the eye can see. The expressions on their faces as they look up at the thunderclouds that shroud the sky can be interpreted either as resignation or awe. Soon a bolt of lightning that makes everything shake cleaves the clouds." ....Putting it like that gives you the feeling that it is a both a "primitive scene" and an "apocalyptic scene".

       Kaminari comes from kami and naru.[1] That way of thinking and the beauty of the way it sounds, in addition to the overwhelming power and the awe it unconditionally arouses. Setting "Raijin" as its personification, this piece is the prelude of Raijin Sōsei and in a way also its symbol.

       The piece has a unique atmosphere and mood with the vocals and other instruments on top of the looping rhythm intensifying the tension before the moment the thunder rumbles. I think that it is filled with power that evinces "creation".

[1] 雷 (kaminari) "thunder", 神 (kami) "god", 鳴る (naru) "ring, rumble".

"Tengoku no ikazuchi"

       In Western thought there exists a place between heaven and hell called purgatory which is said to purify souls before they rise to heaven. The "tengoku" sung about in this song is an institution(?) that I have created myself, and it has an exactly opposite role. Seizing beforehand the souls definitely destined for hell that are trying to rise to heaven, it makes them atone for their crimes using appropriate methods; that is tengoku.

       To explain what I am talking about concretely would require explaining things for which there is not enough space here, so I will refrain from doing so. Instead, if reading the lyrics happens to make you arrive at the true meaning I had in mind then that is great, and should our thinking differ, if the "tengoku" inside your mind works out for you then that is meaningful in its own way. (I believe that this should be the stance for musicians on all their pieces in the first place)

       A tune both symphonic and metallic, Karukan's screaming guitar solo and Kuroneko's solemn vocals filled with extreme sadness. I believe that this piece has prestige that will make you believe in the existence of tengoku if just a little, although it is merely fantasy. I think the piece has achieved a perfect balance where it can be said that it is new for Onmyōza while at the same time it is also typical of us.


       As "Kamikaze" on Fūjin Kaikō was about "creating a divine wind within yourself", this piece is about "making yourself brim with power akin to thunder". "Chihayaburu" is a pillow word that precedes words like "gods", and as it also signifies great force and ferociousness, I believe it is a fitting pillow word for "thunder" too.[1] With the thunder brimming within yourself you peal out a battle cry and wave the flag of conviction.

       The guitar riff, that can only be described as a strong style[2] wrestler in black trunks, manifests Onmyōza's spirit of "Both nostalgia and innovation can hit the road! Be open-minded! Go for it!" Personally, when I came up with this riff, I felt that it had quite an effect, and without using it merely as the intro riff, I had the hunch that it had the potential to become the man(?) that shoulders the chorus too. So that is how I tried constructing it, and the handsomeness of Kuroneko's singing as she gallantly sing with that riff backing her is mesmerizing. When sung by a man, things like these are often most effective when sung powerfully and roughly, but when sung by a woman, my pet theory and personal preference is that it is an absolute must to maintain a perfect balance. Since it depends mostly on the power of the voice you were born with rather than the way you sing, we can only be grateful for the fact that Kuroneko was born with a voice like this.

[1] 枕詞 (makurakotoba / "pillow word") Fixed expressions that are used in Japanese poetry. For example, the "kaze no to no" that "Kurotsuka" begins with is also a pillow word (that precedes "tooki"). (Wikipedia)
[2] Shoot wrestling


       The subject matter of this piece is one of the people who refused to submit to the emperor, the handsome young man Hitokabemaru, who met a violent end under the banner of "expel the barbarians". If I were to seriously delve into the story of Hitokabemaru, there is so much material there that I would end up writing a large suite, but for this piece I have decided to select only his determination and the way he boldly fights for the honor of his kindred. Directly transforming those aspects into tones resulted into this simple piece. It seems that the predominant theory is that Hitokabemaru's father was "Akuroō" and this piece will make you slap your knees and go "That explains it!" It just so goes that a son grows up by looking up to his father!

       In this piece the highlights are the attacking riffs and the powerful drums that are their driving force, but the guitar solos by Maneki and Karukan are just really wicked. Both bringing to the fore their distinctive characteristics, the resolution and the unity of the clan that is fighting until there is only one left standing is clearly conveyed.

       Additionally, since the vocal parts are mostly growling, you might suspect that Kuroneko is absent, but among the shouts that are not part of the lead vocals there are three cats hiding. Go ahead and try to find their locations. If you are one of those who knows that during concerts Kuroneko sometimes lets out unbelievably brutal screams, I believe you will find them if you listen closely.

"Yoaruki kawara botan"

       It is said that the famous painting "Honeonna" by Toriyama Sekien depicts Iyoko from Botan Dōrō, but the subject of this song is a different honeonna. The story goes that a woman who was despised as ugly while alive notices the pleasing appearance of her skeleton after she dies and then strolls around the town in order to show it to people. This song was born after sensing in this yōkai the indescribable nature of women and, in a good sense, comicalness with gruesome sex appeal.

       The heavy metal riffs standing for women's obsession with beauty that can inspire even terror, the lively rhythms and melodies for the irresistible comicalness you feel when you look at it objectively, and the vocals for the radiantly ghastly eroticism; I was able to put into shape each of them exactly as planned.

       Singing which makes the best use of Kuroneko's unique tremolo you can hear here and there combined with phrases that brazenly utilize Japanese scales create an extremely effective hook. This piece turned out into a conspicuous one in Onmyōza's repertoire since we do not buy into the idea that you can sound Japanese just by using Japanese scales. Despite that, I am confident that the exquisite result is still stiflingly Onmyōza-like.

       I think it is also quite an effect that you can listen to the finished piece with the feeling that the music and the singing are simply unfolding expressively; that despite the song structure with its repeating rhythm changes, there is not the slightest sense of abstruseness or complexity.


       Our song "Manji" (B-side of the single "Kōga-ninpōchō") is about the sufferings of an invincible female ninja who was created to be a war machine. This piece describes her feelings shortly before the scene where a worthless enemy says to her: "There's no need to state your name, it'll be over in two seconds". In "Manji" you catch a glimpse of her painfully trying to dispel her anguish by throwing herself into battle, and here in "Kannari-ninpōchō" the unbearable emotions she struggles with before she reaches that state are touchingly related.

       While the catchy riff creates the hook, the piece is ruled by the developments that follow the varying expressions of Kuroneko's singing. You can almost hear the heartrending inner cry of the female ninja who deplores and curses her fate of having to fight against her will. What "kannari" (thunder) has to do with that story will be made clear in the lyrics.

       I believe that a piece like this where pop-like rock fuses with heavy metal riffs without any feeling of wrongness is the result of the creed that Onmyōza has followed since the day we banded together: "expanding" heavy metal instead of "enclosing" it.


       This groovy piece that is both stout and nimble is a very important hook among the pieces on Raijin Sōsei. As his older brother, Maneki's distinctive ability to fuse rusticity with poppiness like this makes me think: "Hm... I must thank our mother... For presenting me with such a younger brother!" (from Seikimatsu Kyūseishu Densetsu)

       Since it is a piece by Maneki, naturally it has to do with tengu. The subject this time is the tengu called "guhin" that has the lowest rank among tengu, and is therefore very busy. I think that I have been able to portray with ample humor the sadness of an underling who still does not lose heart. The part where I have incorporated into the lyrics the irritation of explaining orally the left-hand and right-hand radicals of homophonous kanji characters will doubtlessly be completely ignored by the historians of rock music, but I consider it quite ground-breaking and delightful. By the way, the reason our guhin needs to explain such a thing is that he feels dissatisfied with being called a dog just because his appearance resembles a dog (a wolf)... Such is the setting.

       The entanglement of the bouncy rhythm with the cheeky lead guitar and the distorted organ by Abe (Masahiro) that is there to agitate them create quite a beautiful tune. Also, the guitar solo by the composer Maneki that includes wah-wah in several places is quite a highlight. Not having it on all the time, but utilizing it only here and there is the point. I cannot be the only one who senses in this solo the aroma of British hard rock of yesteryear.

"Seiten no mikazuki"

       I think this piece requires no explanation since it has already been released as a single. In any case, it depicts yet another "Sekigahara" between Date Masamune and Tokugawa Ieyasu, based on a hypothetical interpretation of history. Following "Aoki dokugan" and "Konpeki no sōjin", it forms the concluding part of the "Masamune trilogy", and having created three pieces of the same Sengoku general, I believe that through them I have been able to properly portray the spirit and way of life of the military general Date Masamune.

       On the occasion of putting it on the album Raijin sōsei the piece has been drastically remixed in order to unify the aural image with the other pieces on the album. When compared to the single version, I think you can enjoy it with the thought that "It has a slightly different expression", and simply as a song on the album Raijin sōsei, you should be able to listen to it together with the other pieces without any kind of feeling of strangeness.

       This is something that also concerns other pieces besides this; when we collaborate with someone, in most cases, instead of just offers to simply supply a piece of music, the offers we receive ask us enthusiastically to bring the music of Onmyōza into the stories just as it is. Whether it is an anime, a pachinko machine or a video game, they are not collaborations where we merely lend our name, but we take them to mean that we are to respond by writing a hot new piece following our conviction, so in no case whatsoever will we parcel out leftover pieces. In other words, they are all pieces that would not have come into being without those offers, therefore I have nothing but gratitude for being given the chance to create all of the collaborative pieces including "Seiten no mikazuki".


       Here we have a large piece that is nearly 13 minutes long, the subject matter of which is of course the tale called Kasanegafuchi which was hugely popular in the Edo period. More specifically, the theme of this piece is the supposedly real incident that the story is based on and the sentiments of the people involved. Naturally, instead of just telling a simple ghost story, I have spun the tale from the viewpoint of the characters Rui and Suke.

       You should familiarize yourself with the plot of Kasanegafuchi with books or the Internet, but to summarize it without fear of being misunderstood, it goes like this: "A girl (Suke) is shunned just because of her ugliness and is killed either by her real mother or her stepfather. A woman (Rui) who is the younger sister of the girl (Suke) is killed by her husband because of exactly the same reason and later possesses girls that are her blood relatives. However, eventually the prayers and preaching of a great priest allow her to rest in peace." Although the details differ to some extent, this is the general outline of Kasanegafuchi. While I have been waiting for a long time to use Kasanegafuchi as the subject matter of a song, I embroidered the story while being thoroughly particular about the point that even filicide, which is something that we who live in the modern times cannot really criticize unconditionally, has examples that are absolutely unpardonable.

       Apparently, in those days it was by no means rare to have to reluctantly part with one's child (whether they survived being a different matter) due to not being able to feed them. At the root of it there has to be the compassion and pity of the thought of "If they are going to helplessly suffer in hunger, it would just be better to..." In the reference material for Kasanegafuchi (at least in all of the materials I checked) it is said about the circumstances of Suke's death that "her stepfather (real mother) found her ugliness 'unpleasant' and took her life..." In other words, it means that instead of being an act out of pity, it was simply selfish, which is backed by the fact that her life was destroyed because of something as silly as the superiority or inferiority of one's appearance. What is this about being "unpleasant"? I cannot be the only one who senses an unutterable amount of brutality and baseness in an act like that. Suke's younger sister Rui also ends up being killed because of the same reason by the man who became her husband because she saved his life.

       What I wanted to accomplish with the piece "Kasane" was the retaliation of the two women Suke and Rui. I am absolutely dissatisfied with the story where in the end she is exorcised with the priest's invocations and then everyone lived happily ever after. What's up with the murderer who should have atoned for his deed being protected and the murder victim being deemed an evil spirit and driven away? I wanted to correct that injustice even if it is only within my own piece and to give Rui and Suke the freedom to realize their desires; out of that wish was born this piece "Kasane".

       Whether it is the vocals of Kuroneko with their overwhelming persuasiveness that is as if the two (Rui and Suke) had possessed her, or the solos of Maneki and Karukan who express it with their guitars, or the drums of Makoto that beat the pulse of the story, or the piano of Abe that produces indispensable atmospheres for each of the scenes, I am confident that in every aspect this piece has an outstanding degree of perfection among Onmyōza's large scale pieces that are based on actual legends and folklore. I will declare that exactly this is the type of music that only Onmyōza is able to create.


       "Higurashi" refers to cicadas and is used as a season word for autumn since they call to mind the ending of summer, and indeed, no matter when you hear it, that chirp has a quality that evokes melancholy and loneliness. With that quality, and like summer is a metaphor for a period of activity, it calls to mind autumn in the same metaphorical sense. Furthermore, by being conscious of autumn your thoughts turn to the winter (the ending) that will arrive eventually. I tried making a song out of that sense of transience just as it is. Although people like me who will soon need to welcome autumn will relate to the contents of the lyrics more than those who are still in the spring of life or those in the middle of summer, no matter what stage you are in, it would be great it if it made you think about the fact that "seasons will pass by."

       With the backing of the delicate and graceful piano by Abe that sounds as if it were weaving the air, Kuroneko's vocals touchingly express the very essence of that sense of transience, beautifully sublimating into song the piece's theme that has lyrical and universal charm. According to Kuroneko herself, she staked everything on the way she pronounced the first word, and it certainly worked out. I believe that the mood of the first line completes the "cicadaness" of this piece.

"Shikōshite ugoku koto raitei no gotoshi"

       The title sounds like the pair of "Yue ni sono toki koto kaze no gotoku" on Fūjin kaikō, and that is for a reason. This title also incorporates a concept from the "Military Maneuvers" chapter from The Art of War. (The "move like a thunderbolt" part, together with "as impenetrable as the shadows", was omitted from the famous "Fūrinkazan" flag.[1] "而して" is something I have added to the title; it can be pronounced "shikōshite", "shikashite" or "soshite" and it means the same as "soshite" [and then]) After understanding (agreeing to) the quick speed of life in "Yue ni sono toki koto kaze no gotoku", this piece was born out of the feeling of wanting to reaffirm the way one is to walk that swift life. These are the only two pieces on the two albums that have an interrelationship. My interpretation is that when doing something (moving somewhere) in this life where you cannot afford to waste a single moment, your resolution and vigor should have the power of a thunderbolt. "With that power that is like a thunderbolt, take each step steadily and walk on facing not upwards but forwards;" in the end it also has a direct connection with the conviction of Onmyōza.

       An intro that seems to push on with dignified determination, the flow of the singing that resembles the moment when an overflowing power is released, and a striking, rousing chorus are all something that can be said to be characteristic of a heavy metal band, but the piece is also endowed with catchiness that can be said to be unique to Onmyōza. You are also going to be enchanted by Karukan's guitar solo that strikes like a bolt of lightning.

[1] 風林火山 (fūrinkazan / "wind forest fire mountain"): "As fast as the wind, as quiet as the forest, as daring as fire, and immovable as the mountain." The word was inscribed on the battle flag of Takeda Shingen.


       In Onmyōza's way of saying things,"live" is sometimes written 雷舞, and the piece is indeed about the sights and feelings during concerts.[1] I believe that the tune, the sound and the lyrics are all filled with vitality that calls to mind the atmosphere of live shows. Anyhow, the drumming by Makoto is simply enchanting; this of course can be said for all the other pieces too. In any case, you can directly picture the image of him beating the drums, and in that sense the drums make you instinctively want to shout: "Makoto, you're great!" The other instruments and the singing are also full of bouncy energy that makes you see nothing but the scenery of concerts. Especially from the singing you can sense the smiling faces that fill the concert venues, which include not only the members but the fans too.

       I think that the lyrics in which the dialect of my birthplace, the city of Yawatahama in Ehime prefecture, is utilized to the max are also a perfect match for the atmosphere and rhythm of the piece. It is delightful/thrilling how the unique nuances of the Yawatahama dialect create a sound that is far more rock-like than regular Japanese.

       Setting aside theorizing, pieces like these you want to play live as soon as possible. Likewise, I hope that all of you will feel that you cannot wait to hear it, see it and sing it live!

[1] ライブ (raibu): "Live" is used in Japanese as a noun in the meaning of concert/gig.

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